Sunday, August 3, 2008

On Black Elk, Spirit, and Politics

It was some years ago now, when I was visited by a friend with whom I had shared many good times back in the 80's. He was part Shawnee, if I remember correctly, and proud of his Indian heritage. On the day of his visit, he was looking through my collection of books as he remarked, "Well, I see that you have most of the hippie books." As he spoke, I noticed that he was holding my copy of Black Elk Speaks, by John Neihardt.

I didn't take my friend's comments to be derogatory in any way, He was simply commenting on the fact that I had some of the classics that many proponents of alternative living, such as myself, often kept in their libraries. Such classics in my possession included Laurel's Kitchen, by Laurel Robertson, Hey Beatnik: This Is The Farm Book by Stephen Gaskin and the Farm, and the newer but equally important The Legacy of Luna by Julia Butterfly Hill.

I believe it was back sometime in the 80's when I read Black Elk Speaks. The book stems mainly from the oration of an elderly Oglala Sioux medicine man who, as a thirteen year-old boy, witnessed the Battle of Little Big Horn and later, the destruction brought upon his people at Wounded Knee. The author, John Neihardt, first met the old man when he arrived at the Pine Ridge Reservation in August of 1930. Neihardt at the time, was working on a project called The Song of the Messiah; he was in search of some old medicine man who might be able to speak with him about the deeper spiritual significance of the so-called Messiah craze that swept across many desperate Native American communities during the 1880's and 1890's. The book's author had heard of a man named Black Elk, who apparently had been a person of some significance among his people during the time of this messiah movement.

Neihardt and his interpreter traveled several miles along a treeless dead-end road in hopes that they would find Black Elk both at home and willing to discuss his experiences and knowing with them. Upon arriving at the old man's house, they found him outside awaiting their arrival. It was around noontime when they found Black Elk at home. It was near sunset when Black Elk told Neihardt: "There is so much to teach you. What I know was given to me for men and it is true and it is beautiful. Soon I shall be under the grass and it will be lost.You were sent to save it, and you must come back so I can teach you."

Without wanting to give the contents of the book away, I will only say that it is the story of an amazing man, who as a child, not only witnessed brutality and the ultimate destruction of his culture, but also deep spiritually-based visions and understandings. Black Elk fully understood the calamity that had befallen his people; he spent his life trying to save and revive the sacred hoop of his people.

I chose the title of this blog, not to copy the title of Mr. Neihardt's most excellent book but rather, to honor both the teachings within it and the spirit of Black Elk. For the most part, I intend for my writings here to be more of a political nature as opposed to spiritual. Yes, I'm a political animal who can go on about politics and social issues of all sorts for hours on end without batting an eyelash. Still, for me there is no true separation between between the spiritual and the political; one is simply the reflection of the other. I truly believe that in confronting the dire political situation that we all now face, the solution lies not so much in candidates or political parties, but deep inside of ourselves. It involves our deeply-seated belief systems, which we must confront in order to create a better and more wholesome reality.

Those of us living inside of the United States have watched our government launch preemptive strikes against other countries based upon nothing but lies. Death and destruction seem to be everywhere, even as the possibility of more senseless warfare confronts not only those of us here, but the rest of humanity as well. Some of us now reside inside of our own personal hells as we watch an unparalleled assault upon Nature being orchestrated by those who author Naomi Kline has defined as practitioners of "disaster capitalism." Torture is rampant, our civil liberties are being taken away incrementally through the use of fear, our economy is on the verge of collapse, people are suffering due to the lack of adequate and affordable healthcare; yet, all our political candidates seem to do is trade barbs back and forth in a likeness of that which one writer recently likened to as a political Punch and Judy show.

The difference between Black Elk's situation and ours right now is that his was imposed upon the people from outside; ours is self-imposed. It really doesn't matter whether one is looking at the actions of the Federal Government, or is sitting at a local city council meeting; the same belief systems rule the roost. The religion of unending and unsustainable economic growth, with its constant need for more materials, more space, and more energy use holds sway in just about every governmental chamber inside of the United States. All one has to do is listen to most politicians or the talk-show hosts in order to hear the propaganda of our collective superiority over those of other countries, cultures, or even neighborhoods. The same belief systems that prevail over local neighborhoods as they struggle to maintain what they already have against the onslaught of the impersonal growth machine also prevails over the desires of other cultures to live in peace according to their own beliefs. The only results that can come from such thinking are continued warfare and environmental desecration. Still, to question currently-held beliefs is to break a sort of nationally-held taboo. To think and believe outside of this self-imposed box is to be labeled as a traitor, an "aginer" or as a communist. What type of future will the younger generations face if we cannot both personally, and as as a nation confront this dark side of ourselves?

As time goes on, I hope to write about many issues here. For the most part, these will be national and international in nature; still, issues local to Northwest Arkansas will not be excluded. As mentioned previously, most of these issues will be political. I hope however, that my writings will inspire the reader to look inward as well as outward because that dear reader, is often where the problem really resides, as I'm sure Black Elk, who I wish to honor here, well understood.

Are you ready to take a ride? Fasten your seat belt please, and then keep checking back. I hope to make it interesting.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Excellent! Thanks for sharing the brain under those many hats, Al. I've always meant to read Black Elk's story and now will for sure. Great beginning !